3 Things Not to Say to Someone Who’s Depressed: An Expert Writes

Psychologist Shelja Sen, in her latest book ‘Reclaim Your Life’, talks about fighting stigma round mental health.

Published
Mind It
3 min read

Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Editor: Deepthi Ramdas

Psychologist Shelja Sen, in her latest book ‘Reclaim Your Life’, talks about fighting stigma round mental health and why it’s important to address it.

Stigma means if I have depression, I don’t talk about it, there is something wrong with me. Either I’m mad or weak or just creating drama. So, it’s madness, weakness or drama.
Shelja Sen

She adds that she’s written this book to end this stigma, to achieve a world where someone can simply accept that they’re struggling with depression or anxiety or any other mental health issue, and it will be a universally accepted reality.

Shelja Sen with her book ‘Reclaim Your Life’. 
Shelja Sen with her book ‘Reclaim Your Life’. 
(Photo: Shiv Kumar Maurya/FIT)

Role of the Self in Overcoming Depression

The book talks a lot about the role of the self in overcoming any mental health issue. Sen comments on it in this conversation with FIT and says that when someone is dealing with depression, they lose their sense of personal agency. The role of the mental health expert is to help the person get this agency back.

A common thought that pervades the perception of many, according to Sen, is the refusal to change themselves.
A common thought that pervades the perception of many, according to Sen, is the refusal to change themselves.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

A common thought that pervades the perception of many, according to Sen, is the refusal to change themselves.

My situation needs to change or my family needs to change, my husband needs to change, my children need to change. Everything else needs to change, but I can’t change.
Shelja Sen

A person talks like this when they lose their agency. Though there are moments of despair for a psychologist as well, but the biggest turning point in therapy is when the person finds their sense of control on their lives back, says Sen.

Role of Family and Friends in Overcoming Depression

‘Reclaim Your Life’ emphasises the importance of ‘finding your tribe’. Sen adds that humans are wired to connect, that’s how their internal, emotional makeup is essentially.

We are wired to be part of a community and many times depression and anxiety robs us of that, isolates us and the role of the family, the friends, is to reach out.
Shelja Sen

Sen insists that it’s important to just be there for those who might be fighting their emotional and mental demons.

Be there for them, listen to them, without advising, without lecturing. The other thing is, people need to become more aware.
Shelja Sen
“We are wired to be part of a community and many times depression and anxiety robs us of that.”
“We are wired to be part of a community and many times depression and anxiety robs us of that.”
(Photo: Rhythum Seth/FIT)

What Not to Say to Someone Struggling With Depression?

Sen calls them the three Ds:

Dismissing: People’s depression is often dismissed by saying, “Snap out of it. If you only tried, you don’t try. If you tried and you have the strength you’ll be able to do it.’What is depression? It’s just a choice. Happiness is a choice too. You can choose to not have depression.” This is something which should not be done, says Sen.
Dumping: Whatever the person is going through, it’s reduced to being a mental disorder. Their behavioural patterns are simply written off as a result of depression. This happens a lot with women, Sen adds, when because of their “socio, cultural, political context and what they face, they are immediately labelled as depressed.”
Defining: Defining is when we let that single story of depression, anxiety, OCD, anorexia, whatever the person might be going through, define that person. Sen adds, “You put depression in a petridish, you take away shame you take away stigma, you take away silence from it and you see it dissolve.”

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